About Mark Johnson’s Latest Letter of Empty Facts

Mark Johnson sent us another letter today filled with half-truths and intentionally unexplained “facts & figures” meant again to try and quell next week’s march and rally in Raleigh. He stated,

“We want to empower you with clear facts at your fingertips as we work together to improve public education in our state.”


Those “facts” deserve further explanation because as a trained lawyer, Johnson knows that exposing the full truth of statements made in the public arena about education (especially if he is the “elected leader of the public schools”) is important and that misrepresenting information to the client (people of the state) is rather unethical.

1. The average teacher salary in NC is now $54,000 per school year. In NC, the median teacher salary per school year is more than the median household income per year.

Below is the latest salary schedule for teachers in North Carolina.


How can that be the average pay in NC be over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. North Carolina is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgusted the former governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout this new wonderful “average.”

Furthermore, this average is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of budgets that are allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements.

Any veteran teacher who is making above 50K based on seniority, graduate pay, and national boards is gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the CURRENT average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay, and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a “burden” on the educational budget leave the system.

In actuality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. If the top salary that any teacher could make is barely over 50K (some will have higher as National Board Certified Teachers, but not a high percentage), then how can you really brag that average salaries will be higher in the future?

2. The average salary for a beginning teacher in NC is $39,300 per school year, which is more than the average starting salary for other college graduates and more than the median wage for individuals in North Carolina.*

Look at that salary table again. It is “front-loaded.” What would be a stronger indication of the strength of teachers’ salaries is not comparing just the first year, but increments of years. How do five year veterans compare to other five year workforce veterans? 10-year veterans? 20?

Johnson would also need to possibly explain the following data map and the research associated with it.


Plus, look how Johnson conveniently goes back and forth between comparing teacher salaries to median salaries of all North Carolinians to others who may have a college degree. He is trying to have the best of both worlds there.

Johnson could also take the time to measure average lifetime wages (30 year working career) of teachers against other comparably educated professionals. He would have to explain himself quite a bit.

3. The state sends $1,300 per teacher to schools for textbooks and supplies each school year.

First, $1,300 may buy around 20-25 textbooks, period.

For high schoolers.

Just go to a college bookstore and see what an average student’s expense for textbooks is for one semester. Rather, ask the parents.

Teachers today usually have about a 150 students a school year, at least in high school. It would take 6-7 years of that funding to buy an entirely new set of textbooks. Many of them become outdated or overused before that time is up – and we have not even touched on supplies.

Justin Parmenter did a wonderful piece on his blog Notes From the Chalkboard on supply spending. It included this graph.

The complete posting is very worth the read.

4. North Carolina has over 2,500 public schools that serve more than 1,500,000 students.

5. Our largest school district serves almost 160,000 students, making it the 15th largest district in the nation, while our smallest serves about 600 students.

If one looks at 4 and 5 together (as they are related), what Johnson is really proving here is that out state is growing. If it’s growing, then it needs to funded at a higher level. It’s not. Just look at per-pupil expenditures as adjusted for inflation over the last 10-12 years.

Plus, it’s funny that he refer to the Wake County school system when he talks about the state’s largest school district because Wake County has more nationally certified teachers than any other county in the country and yet Johnson is overseeing a tremendous amount of privatization efforts being materialized in Wake County itself with vouchers and charter schools.

Furthermore, Wake County was one of the first county systems to shut down for May 1st because of the extreme number of teachers, students, and parents who will be going to march in Raleigh because they disagree with what Johnson stands for. It was also one of the first to do so last year for May 16th.

6. North Carolina’s 115 school districts receive mostly state funding, while other states are divided into many smaller school districts that rely more heavily on local funding. (Pennsylvania, for example, has 500 school districts.)

Well, the state of North Carolina has to fund schools that way – it’s in the state constitution. And if Mark Johnson wants to talk about how Pennsylvania funds its schools and praise them for it, then he might want to respond to this:


This teacher trusts Bill Harrison about issues of education a hell of a lot more than a state superintendent who only speaks in half-truths.

But if Johnson “wants to encourage constructive discussions about our education system,” then I will be glad to talk with him. I’ll be in Raleigh on May 1st. He can find me on Halifax Mall.


About Sen. Berger’s Really Bad Sports Analogy Concerning the NCAE

A recent ABC11.com posting quoted another Phil Berger platitude that again shows his intentional disconnect with the state of public education.

“The far-left NCAE has changed the goalposts year after year,” Phil Berger said in a statement. 

He said the teachers union is “trying to mislead the public into thinking Republicans are bad for education.”

First, anything that does not agree with Berger is far-left. But his sports analogy really does not work here, especially considering that most athletic coaches in our public schools are also teachers.

So the NCAE has changed the goalposts? Hardly.  The goalposts are the same. The problem is that there are so many ill-conceived reforms that Berger and his cronies have championed and pushed through that he has lost sight what is at stake.


In reality, NCAE has been the consistent party here.

If anything, what Berger and his ilk have done is to constantly change the playing field. New standards, under-funding, over-testing, school performance grading, salary scales changes, vouchers, unregulated charter school growth, elimination of benefits, etc., have been aimed at creating a constant flux for public school educators and advocates to navigate and yet we still effectively teach students.

And it’s hard to kick a ball through any goalpost when the person holding the very ball refuses to let the kicker actually boot it through.

Reminds this teacher of the classic Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schultz with Lucy and Charlie Brown except in this scenario… well, it’s apparent.


The goalposts have always been in Raleigh planted on West Jones Street. Except, on May 1st, the plan will not be to kick a field goal.

It will be to score many touchdowns.

See you in the trenches.



NC Teachers (And All Public Employees) Should Have Collective Bargaining Rights

Rob Schofield posted a piece today on NC Policy Watch that reported on a new effort for all of North Carolina’s public employees to have collective bargaining rights.

More than 600,000 public employees throughout North Carolina would obtain a right that’s been denied to them for 60 years under a pair companion bills introduced in the North Carolina House and Senate and highlighted at a press event this morning in Raleigh. House Bill 710 and Senate Bill 575 would repeal North Carolina General Statute section 95-98, the six-decade-old ban on collective bargaining by public employees.

At an event in the state Legislative Building this morning, an array of public officials and advocates decried the ban as both a Jim Crow-era violation of basic human rights and an impediment to the delivery of safe, affordable and efficient public services. North Carolina public employees — including state, county and municipal workers like teachers, police officers, and firefighters — “deserve a seat at the table” said Senator Wiley Nickel (D-Wake). North Carolina is one of only three states with such a statutory ban, Nickel added — a fact he linked to low retention and high turnover rates among public workers at all levels.

The ban itself was established in the Jim Crow-era. It literally is the last holdover as far as laws are concerned. And NC is one of seven states that makes collective bargaining illegal.

Image result for map of states with collective bargaining rights 2018

What today’s presentation of these bills reminded this teacher of was an op-ed by a young teacher in Durham named Matt Tyler who gave a very good argument on why teachers should push for collective bargaining rights. In “Teachers should take aim at North Carolina’s collective bargaining laws“, Tyler writes about last year’s march adn rally on May 16th. He stated,

“State legislators like Rep. Mark Brody – who last week called marching teachers “union thugs” – pit unions (which don’t exist in North Carolina) against quality education. To the contrary, states that allow for collective bargaining are less likely to see teachers’ strikes. This is a result, as Agustina Paglayan writes in the Washington Post, of a collective bargaining system that is responsive to distraught educators’ legitimate concerns. Because teachers in collective bargaining states have a legitimized outlet to voice their concerns, they do not need to strike to be heard. Indeed, collective bargaining agreements oftentimes impose stiff penalties for strikes. In other words, collective bargaining laws provide a relief valve for tensions between the government and public-sector employees.”

Ironic, that on the map above only seven states outlaw collective bargaining rights.

Eleven allow for them to be used.

32 require them to be used.

Of those seven states that make collective bargaining rights illegal, two will be holding marches on May 1st.

Another one of those states had a huge teacher protest last year.





-26.5%: How Underpaid NC Teachers Really Are

Remember when Mark Johnson said that $35,000 was a good salary for teachers in parts of North Carolina because it was higher than the median income in those counties?

johnson salary

And there are others who say that teacher pay in NC should not be scrutinized because the “national average” argument is too mercurial to be a nationwide standard. Mitch Kokai’s article in EdNC.org entitled “Placing the ‘national average’ debate in context” tries to play that narrative and even states this:

“Note that the average North Carolina public school teacher makes significantly more money than the average private-sector worker. (This is true of average teachers nationwide compared to their private-sector peers as well.) Second, the average North Carolina public school teacher earns a paycheck much closer to the national private-sector average than his friends and neighbors working in this state’s private sector.”

There is a big omission in this argument. He compares teacher salaries to ALL private sector salaries. What he should have done is compare teacher salaries to others who HAVE COMPARABLE COLLEGE EDUCATED WORKERS. Such an omission is deliberate and an act of cherry-picking.

The Educational Policy Institute did such a comparison and summarized that data into one data rich map.


North Carolina is at -26.5%.

You can read the rest of the research here.


How Mark Johnson Has Become the Face of the “Status Quo” – Why May 1st Is So Important

Mark Johnson claims that he wants to change the “status quo.”

But in reality he wants to protect the “status quo.”

In fact, he is the “status quo.”

status quo

At the end of this press release Johnson is quoted as saying,

“We need leadership to come together to make this happen. Public education is too important to continue the status quo in North Carolina.”

The term “status quo” has become something of a nebulous term for public education and has evolved into a powerful logical fallacy used by reformers. The use of the “status quo” fallacy is not new, certainly for Mark Johnson. And it is a crutch that has reached absurdity because in actuality, Mark Johnson might be the very poster child for the “status quo.”

What Johnson and other business model reformers consider the “status quo” in education is intrinsically linked to a final product, measured by standardized testing and other mercurial measurements. However, the real “status quo” is not really linked to that final product. It is more a reflection of the constant infusion of reform models that have altered the process by which public schools have been able to teach our children. The truth is that the existing state of public education is always being subjected to scrutiny, modification, alteration, and change from outside forces for political or profit-minded reasons.

The real “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.

If anything, the terrain of public education has been in a state of constant flux for the past thirty years. With the “Nation at Risk” report to “No Child Left Behind” to the advent of high stakes testing to the innumerable business models infused into education to “Race to the Top” to Common Core to charter school movement to vouchers, the thought of even calling what we have had in North Carolina “status quo” is not just wrong –

It’s ignorant. And it is purposefully done.

And all of those causes in the change to the “status quo” were not necessarily brought by educators as much as by politicians and business leaders, Johnson included as he echoes and rubber stamps the very policies and initiatives championed by NC General Assembly GOP stalwarts. The very actions that have caused their version of the“status quo” are allowing politicians to blame public education for failing to hit targets that are constantly moving or in many cases invisible so that “leaders” and reformers can come and claim to save the day.

That’s how we get Mark Johnson, the most unqualified state superintendent propped up by a General Assembly that not only has gerrymandered districts and pushed unconstitutional laws, but has spent taxpayer money to help transfer power away from the State Board of Education to a puppet superintendent to privatize the public good of public education even more.

It’s as if he conveniently forgot that the people elected him to be state superintendent based on the job description and powers of office attached to every other state superintendent before him.

It’s as if he forgot that what he claims he needs to lead the state’s school system has to include what powers were granted to him without the input of the people by a biased NCGA weeks AFTER he was elected.

It’s as if he forgets that in the months since he has assumed office he has done absolutely NOTHING to change what he claims to be the “status quo.” As a state, we have heard nothing about the innovations he said he would bring and the only “urgency” he has used is to keep going back to court with taxpayer money to gain the power to divert more taxpayer money to vouchers and unregulated charter schools.

It’s as if he forgets that he himself is the “status quo.”

If one were to simply look at all of the initiatives introduced into public education (both nationally and state-based) while considering changes in curriculum and requirements, that person would see an ever changing landscape.

A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, ACT, standardized tests, achievement gap, graduation rates, merit pay, charter schools, parent triggers, vouchers, value added-measurements, virtual schools, Teach For America, formal evaluations – there are so many variables, initiatives, and measurements that constantly change without consistency which all affect public schools and how the public perceives those schools.

When entities like the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the American Federation of Children, the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC), think tanks, and other PAC’s are constantly promoting reforms in public schools, the idea that there is a “status quo” becomes implausible. Those entities are all active in North Carolina and they see Mark Johnson as their man.

He will protect their “status quo.”

So if there is any “status quo” associated with the public schools, it’s that there are always outside forces acting on the public school system which seek to show that they are failing our kids.

And it has Johnson’s face attached to it.

That’s the “status quo” that should not be accepted.

Recent Research Makes Even More Imperative for NC To Make Its Voucher Program More Transparent

When Duke University’s Children’s Law Center’s released its March 2017 report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS one of the most glaring aspects of the program was how many vouchers were being used at religiously affiliated schools.

Duke study

And don’t forget that we as a state are expanding vouchers by $10 million year until the year 2026-2027.

By that time we will have spent over $900 million dollars on vouchers in North Carolina in a system that is considered the least transparent in the entire country.

Today, ChalkBeat posted a piece entitled “Do voucher students’ scores bounce back after initial declines? New research says no.”

It starts,

New research on a closely watched school voucher program finds that it hurts students’ math test scores — and that those scores don’t bounce back, even years later.

That’s the grim conclusion of the latest study, released Tuesday, looking at Louisiana students who used a voucher to attend a private school. It echoes research out of IndianaOhio, and Washington, D.C. showing that vouchers reduce students’ math test scores and keep them down for two years or more.

Together, they rebut some initial research suggesting that the declines in test scores would be short-lived, diminishing a common talking point for voucher proponents.

It is certainly worth the read.


Dear Supt. Johnson, Where Will You be “Standing” on May 1st?

Last year Mark Johnson made it clear where he stood on a couple of issues that were at the heart of the May 16th march and rally.

He also made it clear where he actually would not be physically standing on May 16th.


johnson tweet

In the eight days that remain before educators and public school advocates will come to hold class in Raleigh, it make one wonder where Mark Johnson stands on the five core issues at the heart of this year’s event.

  1. Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees
  2. Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards
  3. Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families
  4. Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017
  5. Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013​

Then one last item for Mr. Johnson: where will he be actually standing on May 1st? In Raleigh with educators and public school advocates or someplace else?


Look What Is Happening in South Carolina on May 1st

From the Post & Courier in Charleston, SC today:

“Public school teachers across South Carolina plan to leave work May 1 and protest in Columbia to demand higher wages, smaller classroom sizes and other changes to their working conditions.

It remains unclear how many teachers will participate and whether any school districts may opt to close schools that day.

The protest was announced over the weekend by SC for Ed, a teacher activist group. The group formed last summer and was inspired partly by teacher walkouts and strikes across the country, which have been widely promoted by the National Education Association labor union.”

SC is experiencing a teacher shortage.

Their classes are too big.

Per pupil expenditure is not where it needs to be.

They are wearing red on Wednesdays.

They are taking a personal day on May 1st.

They are converging in Columbia the same day we are going to Raleigh.

Image result for north and south carolina


Write Your Lawmakers About the Five Priority Issues – See Where They Stand!

From Organize 2020:

Send a letter: Tell your rep today: Our students need support!



I wrote a letter for the Organize 2020 Caucus campaign: Tell your rep today: Our students need support!

May 1 is getting close. All this week we are focusing on NCAE’s 5 Priority Issues to tell the NC General Assembly we want action.

We are choosing to build our strength and and see what is possible. To do this, we need every single one of us, our colleagues, our friends, our family, and our community to work together.

Today’s priority issue: Fully fund all support staff for all schools in North Carolina. Ensure students get the services they need and teachers are able to focus on the classroom.

We’ve prepared a letter you can send to your state representatives calling on them to stand with public school employees on May 1. It also asks them to take our legislator survey to tell us where they stand on our 5 priority issues.

Can you join me and write a letter? Click here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-your-rep-today-our-students-need-support?source=may1-letter-email-share&


Organize 2020 - NCAE Racial and Social Justice Caucus

An Open Letter From a Veteran North Carolina Teacher to Young Teachers – You Are Vital And One of the Many Reasons to Go All Out on May 1

This letter was first posted a little over a year ago as a groundswell was beginning to build that led to the historic march and rally of last May 16th.

And it seemed appropriate that it be posted again as two of the five very issues defined for this year’s march directly affect our younger teachers: advanced degree pay and retirement benefits. 

Of course, the other three deal with how well schools and communities are treated and those have direct effects on any teacher, but younger teachers need to know that they are vital.

They will become the veteran teachers in years to come teaching younger teachers then how to still advocate for students and schools and communities.

letter writing

Dear Fellow Educator,

I first want to tell you that I admire what you have chosen to do as a career. Teaching in today’s public schools is not easy. I know as I am in my 20th year of teaching. I still love my job. I still love being with the students. Outside of my family, this profession has fulfilled me like no other. I firmly believe my students would concur if asked.

And it has kept me young at heart and sharp in mind.

One of the main reasons I have adored public school teaching is I had great veteran teachers who mentored me and engaged with me, and who cared about how I progressed as an individual and professional.

But I worry about the future of our profession in North Carolina sometimes. I am afraid that we will not have as many veteran teachers in the future as we do now. That’s why I want to try and convince you to stay in the profession.

You are needed. You are vital. You can be agents of change and staunch advocates for schools and students. You can improve the profession and secure the very items that will strengthen our profession. You are beginning your career at one of the most crucial times where educational reform is at a fever pitch and schools are under constant scrutiny.

Teaching is that one “occupation” that everybody has some sort of stake in. If you are not a student, former student, parent of a student, employer of former students, then you are at least paying taxes to help support public schools. People who invest in any way, shape, or form are stakeholders and many will go out of their way to tell you what is right or wrong about our schools.

Teaching might be the most openly exposed, yet most misunderstood profession. With changes in curriculum, standards, evaluations, graduation requirements, salaries, policies, resources, laws, and personnel, it is arduous for even us veteran teachers to keep pace. Public education takes the largest part of our state budget; it probably takes up the most debate time and committee meetings in the General Assembly.

Class sizes are larger. High-stakes testing quantifies everything. Data gets crunched by outside entities. There are meetings with parents and administrators. There is the planning and grading and the revising of differentiated lesson plans.

And then there are our students, the very reasons why we do what we do. Their needs are upmost in our priorities.

Those needs are many: academic, mental, psychological, emotional, and physical. Those needs force us to “wear many hats.” Those needs force us to always learn how to best serve our students in conditions that could never be measured by standardized assessments.

When I became a teacher, my venerable uncle gave me some of his usual sage advice. A retired English teacher, he still is revered by former students. It was he who became the model for what I still strive to do in classroom. He told me when I began teaching to give it three years.

The first year would be a whirlwind simply trying to learn how to plan, execute, and instruct students. The second year would be a paper maelstrom because I was still trying to learn how to be a part of a school community and understand the inner workings of the school. The third year my immune system would get to the point where I wouldn’t catch every malady that students had and I would have familiarity with the job as a whole. My third year would be where I could see the profession holistically.

But the one thing he always stressed: enjoy the students. When the door closes for class, you can help some amazing things happen.

Students are what have kept me in this profession. With all of the flux that occurs in education, the criticism that schools receive, and the constant need for resources and support, students have been the constant and consistent foundation in my career.

Yes, the faces change from year to year, but they never disappear. Many will always want to stay in contact. All will have made an impression on you and you will impact them. If students always remain the center of what you do as an educator, those other stressors can be dealt with in proactive ways.

Having younger teachers energizes a school building. You bring in new ideas, contagious energy, and constant reminders of why we do what we do. You come in with new uses for technology and new pedagogical approaches. And it is up to us veterans to be useful mentors, good sounding boards, and constructive critics.

It is also a veteran teacher’s job to show you how to advocate for students and schools. It is that advocacy that helps keep students the focus of what we do and when we keep the focus on students we tend to stay in the profession longer, and when teachers stay in the profession longer it ensures that when new teachers come into the profession there will always be veterans there to help them and learn from them.

When I started teaching in North Carolina we had due-process rights, a salary schedule, and graduate degree pay increases. We had state-funded professional development and fewer standardized tests. We had a General Assembly that did a better job at fully-funding public schools. We had more time for each student to help “personalize” instruction.

Unfortunately, many of those conditions no longer exist. But they can again if you fight for them.

Advocating for students and schools means that you advocate for the teaching profession because schools do not work well without empowered teachers. Students need strong teachers who are supported for what they do; therefore, the more you advocate for the teaching profession, the more you are advocating for students and schools. It could mean that you make sure to vote in elections. It could mean that you join a professional organization like NCAE. It could mean that you write op-eds, visit legislators, or become involved with teacher groups. It could mean doing all of these.

Many in Raleigh will tell you that your average pay has increased as a beginning teacher an incredible amount. But if you really look at the overall picture, the removal of due-process, the removal of graduate degree pay increases, the recent mandate to keep new teachers from having state supported insurance when they retire, the stunted salary schedule, and all of the other measures enacted by the current NCGA, you will see why there are fewer teacher candidates in our colleges and universities.

But you are here, and I want you to stay. Your students, schools, communities, and fellow educators want you to stay, grow, and advocate. I want you to become a better veteran teacher than I am today who is willing and ready to help any new teacher get better at what he / she does which is help students. I want you to feel empowered to take action. I want you to be able to speak up for your profession, even if it means confiding only in trusted colleagues.

I will promise you this: if students see you advocating for them and their school, they will move mountains for you because when you keep students at the center of what you do, they will notice and act in kind.

And students are the reason we are here.